Japanese animation fans know Record of Lodoss War as a Tolkienesque fantasy tale with an anime bent. Soon, video game fans will know Record of Lodoss War as a Diablo-style dungeon romp complete with myriad weapons, health potions galore, and hordes and hordes of monsters. Fans of both may wonder at first how the Lodoss War video game is even connected to the Lodoss War anime, though the persistent player will eventually discover some ties between the two.
At first, the Dreamcast's Record of Lodoss War barely clings to the storyline of the anime series. You begin the game as a long dead soldier brought back by the good wizard Wart. Mysteriously, he ignores questions about your identity, explaining only that you were once the land's mightiest warrior. Lodoss War initiates are probably scratching their heads at this point, but read on: Wart tells you that malevolent forces are moving to resurrect the wicked goddess Kardis, and apparently no living warrior is capable of stopping these powers of evil. That's where your reanimated form comes in (and now Lodoss fans have a familiar name to work with). After Wart acclimates you to the ways of combat and sends you on a few trivial tasks, he introduces your real mission: Track down and regroup the various heroes of the original series, such as the hero Parn and the token burly dwarf, Ghim, to combat the grave threat against the land. Fairly run-of-the-mill stuff, yes, but at least the game doesn't attempt to cram the storyline of the existing Lodoss War series into playable form. A little originality is always appreciated, after all.
In gameplay terms, Record of Lodoss War feels like the developer took the PlayStation version of Diablo, made its graphics 3D, ported it to the Dreamcast, and stuffed the Lodoss War license into it. In fact, for console-bound fans of Diablo, this should be all the endorsement the game needs. If you're not already sold on the modern dungeon crawl, though, further explanation is due. Like Diablo, Record of Lodoss War is an action game viewed from a three-quarter overhead perspective (with limited camera control allowed). Combat and item use are carried out in real-time, that is, press the B button to swing your sword or press the Y button to use an item. Direct control is limited to your main character, but you'll be joined by Lodoss heroes, like Parn and Deedlit, who will fight alongside you as dictated by the CPU. Your combat repertoire consists of a single sword-based attack, which you'll use ad infinitum, some offensive and defensive spells, and the requisite healing potions and magic items. As you traverse the overworld, you'll encounter plenty of monsters, and the dungeons throughout which you'll conduct your business hold even more. If you like lots and lots of combat, Lodoss is your game. Beware the tedium of pressing the B button a million times in a row, though.
Lodoss also gives you a few options for customizing your weapons. Thanks to a faithful blacksmith, weapons and armor can be melted down into raw mithril and reforged into any other type of weapon you've picked up. In your journeys, you'll also encounter monuments on which ancient runes are inscribed. The blacksmith can etch these runes into your equipment to give it special attributes, such as greater protection or an increased chance of scoring critical hits. For stat hounds, this feature should prove interesting, although only the most dedicated will really bother to exploit it. Along with your powerful AI-controlled teammates, the standard weapons and armor that you find should suffice to get you through the game.
The difficulty level of Record of Lodoss War is tough to describe, because it can be ridiculously easy and annoyingly hard in turns. The difficulty comes only from the sheer number of enemies sometimes thrown at you, and the ease lies in the ability to save your game and refill your healing potion bottles at will. If you keep a watchful eye on your health and a finger ready on the potion button, you should be able to keep fighting indefinitely without dying. However, it's easy to forget about your health for the 10 or so seconds that it takes for a group of monsters to overwhelm you and send you back to your last save game. Of course, incessant potion taking is as familiar to Diablo players as repetitious combat, so this shouldn't be a huge surprise.
Record of Lodoss War is really a hard game to judge. On one hand, it re-creates the dungeon-faring hack-and-slash of Diablo nicely, and, as mentioned before, fans of that game looking for more need look no further. On the other hand, though, the game can be extremely repetitive, and its story elements aren't really strong enough to hold it up when the combat gets boring. Fans of the old anime series shouldn't buy it on the strength of the license alone, because no footage from the original animation is used in the game. In its place are a series of CG movies that look like they belong in a first-generation PlayStation game. The character element is also weak, beyond the occasional name recognition factor. In short form: If you like Diablo, you'll like Lodoss. If not, steer clear. Just don't pick it up expecting the anime itself in game form.